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April 04, 2023

ABA ROLI’s JusTRAC+ Program Addresses the Nexus of Transnational Organized Crime and Corruption

As part of the Justice Sector Training, Research, and Coordination Plus Program (JusTRAC+), the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) hosted a virtual community of practice meeting on February 28, 2023 focused on the “White Paper on Strengthening Coordination in Support of the United States Strategy on Countering Corruption”, which was drafted by Matthew Murray, ABA ROLI’s Expert Consultant, in consultation with the U.S. State Department.

The meeting, moderated by Lemarque Campbell, ABA ROLI’s Senior Anti-Corruption Technical Advisor, included Matthew Murray, who presented the White Paper, along with the following discussants: Cheri-Leigh Erasmus, Global Director of Learning at the Accountability Lab; Gary Kalman, Executive Director of Transparency International USA; and Pat Austria Ramsey, Director of Country Programs and Innovation at the Institute for State Effectiveness

Randy Hansen, ABA ROLI’s Global Programs Division Director, kicked off the meeting with an introduction and welcomed the participants, who included both U.S. Government (USG) interagency personnel and anti-corruption civil society leaders. Lemarque Campbell provided an overview of the significance of the White Paper presentation, and an overview of the JusTRAC+ program—which is implemented by both ABA ROLI and the Rule of Law Collaborative at the University of South Carolina (ROLC). The program is funded by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). It serves as a key resource for rule of law practitioners engaged in justice sector programming and offers a variety of activities and resources for a practitioner audience through its Knowledge Portal.

How did the White Paper come to be? 

The White Paper stems from the Biden-Harris Administration United States Strategy on Countering Corruption (“Strategy”), issued in December, 2021, which calls upon the USG to elevate the fight against corruption as a core national security interest. The Strategy is based on the assessment that the global rise of corruption-fueled authoritarianism poses a threat to the international rules-based order and democracy itself.

Further, the White Paper is the product of the inputs made by USG interagency personnel during the JusTRAC+’s Interagency Roundtable Series on Strengthening Coordination to Counter Corruption Abroad – the New U.S. Strategy, which was organized by ABA ROLI. The Roundtable Series took place from April 19 to April 22, 2022, and featured officials from the following departments and agencies: the National Security Council (NSC), Department of State (DOS), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Treasury, Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), and Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

Actions Recommended Under the White Paper 

The White Paper highlights seven outcomes which are dubbed as desired interagency outcomes. Matthew Murray provided recommendations and best practices on each of these outcomes.

The seven desired interagency outcomes outlined in the White Paper are;

  1. Form a Common Operating Picture of Corruption
  2. Expand Sharing of Intelligence, Information and Data on Corruption
  3. Lead Intra-Agency Processes to Elevate and Integrate Anti-Corruption
  4. Form and Execute Holistic Solutions to Corruption
  5. Strengthen and Expand Linkages among Diplomacy, Foreign Assistance, and Other Tools
  6. Form Core USG Network to Help Disrupt and Defeat Corrupt Networks
  7. Learn, Change and Innovate as a Community

A full overview of each desired outcome can be found by viewing the White Paper here on the JusTRAC+ Knowledge Portal.

A Systems Building and Introspective Approach to Enhancing Accountability 

Pat Austria Ramsey highlighted the relevance of the White Paper to her organization. She mentioned the that the primary goal for the Institute for State Effectiveness is making institutions more inclusive and accountable to citizens. To do so, they help bridge the governance gap by focusing on a systems-building approach, which involves building operational plans, manuals, and trainings in government work, among other things.

The concept of accountability being entrenched in systems resonates with the White Paper as the paper states, “…corruption is not seen as an externality or a byproduct of inefficiency but is seen as a fundamental sign of the efficacy of an institution and the eco-systems by which they work.” Anti-corruption practitioners continue to grapple with the question of how to overcome these inefficiencies and challenges instead of reacting to corruption. Pat Austria Ramsey agreed with what the paper proposes, “…institutions are simply not meant to react to corruption but to proactively build accountable systems that work towards continuous improvement.

The White Paper views corruption not just as an erosion of ethics but as a detriment to the broader eco-system, so an institutional and systemic issue must have an institutional and systemic approach.

Ramsey reiterated the concept of introspective approach by anti-corruption practitioners in their daily work. On this, the White Paper states, “…as often anti-corruption practitioners see corruption as that done by others instead of asking the question of, 'How does our work and processes contribute to corruption?'

Institutional Change and Process Dimension in Countering Corruption

Ramsey further highlighted the importance of change and process dimensions. The White Paper similarly calls for continuous learning, and asks the question to anti-corruption practitioners, “...as corruption continues to change how do we adapt to it?” Once something is achieved we cannot wash our hands and say it is done, no, there is continuous learning needed. 

Ramsey shared that to successfully implement this framework it is critical to ask, “How do you destigmatize change and increase the institution’s ability to absorb the change?” Because change is often viewed negatively, or as a signal of failure, but it forces institutions to admit when things aren’t working. 

Ramsey shared that when: “Institutions restructure change as a responsibility and as a security concern, the question becomes, ‘How you institutionalize and make change as a part of the regular process, that is not seen as a negative component of the processes and work, but is seen as a necessary step to keep up with the evolving security concerns around corruption?’

She went further to discuss the challenge of this as “...institutions work fine in and of themselves, but if the processes are so stringent that they don’t allow change and agility to happen as corruption risks arise, then corruption becomes a risk overall.

Whole of Government Approach

Gary Kalman, Executive Director of Transparency International USA, reiterated it was a huge step forward to see corruption taken as a serious topic, especially by the USG, and appreciated them for taking this effort seriously. He then illustrated the work Transparency International does with regards to corruption efforts in the USA and spoke to the challenges he predicts in implementing the White Paper.

The White Paper talks about forming a common operating picture in the USG agencies. There are competing priorities that come into play when addressing corruption (i.e., geopolitical factors). He gave examples of research done on Hurricane Katrina in 2005 where corruption was not considered as an issue, but when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, substantial and drastic anti-corruption measures were taken. During the initial COVID-19 outbreak, the IMF saw that many funds were being misappropriated, just months later the IMF included anti-corruption clauses in their contracts. 

What does all this mean? He stated how a common operating picture and approach would remedy a situation where different issues are dealt with in different ways instead of through a common way. However, he pointed out the imperfect nature of this, as various agencies can each have different priorities regarding the framework.

 Kalman noted, “To effectively conduct anti-corruption work, there should be collaboration and coordination in government agencies. If we have collaboration, we can have holistic approaches to solving issues.” 

Partnerships and Linkages between USG and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs)

The main challenge, in Kalman’s eyes, was trust, especially between governments and CSOs. He highlighted various ways through which trust can be built between the two groups, the key being conducting planning sessions between them,. 

Following Kalman’s remarks, Cheri-Leigh Erasmus, the Global Director of Learning at Accountability Lab, highlighted the work of Accountability Lab and how it relates to the anti-corruption sector. She noted how part of their work entails them transplanting what works from one place to another, and in that regard, they build insider, outsider networks - which are networks built from both within and outside government, with both communities and reformers in government.  

 Leigh-Erasmus shared the importance of building partnerships to achieve interagency outcomes numbers 5,6 and 7 outlined in the White Paper and reiterated that one way through which partnerships between CSOs and USG will benefit the anti-corruption field is by, “putting CSO’s at the forefront when using messaging systems to relay information.” She argued that corruption needs a multi-faceted approach to combat it. In her example of Accountability Lab , the approach they have taken is a bottom-up approach - meaning that they work a lot with CSOs in doing anti-corruption work- and they work from the ground up.   

Working from the ground up is important as CSOs are better able to push an anti-corruption agenda through their messaging, since they act as message surrogates. CSOs are often more trusted as opposed to government officials. CSOs are also able to convey this message in a language that makes sense to both civil servants and communities at a local level and ensures that the message lands well enough to encourage people to engage in accountability and broader governance conversations. 

Capacity Building as a Tool for Creating Local Level Partnerships 

Further, Leigh-Erasmus argued  another way in which partnerships between CSOs and USG will benefit the anti-corruption field is by forming strong linkages through capacity building initiatives, including through locals and between USG agencies and grantees. These linkages can utilize conversations on lessons learned and impact stories can be shared and not lost. Agencies are then better equipped to recognize what is working, allowing USG to take what is working to inform grant financing. 

Further meaningfully building connections between USG grantees on the ground can help them form networks on their own and be brought into multilateral conversations. CSOs will then be able to talk to each other and foster collaboration and learning. 

Read the full recommendations from the White Paper and learn more about the Roundtable Series on the JusTRAC+ portal here.

Learn more about ABA ROLI’s work in its Global Programs Division.

The materials contained herein represent the opinions of the authors and editors and should not be construed to be those of either the American Bar Association or ABA Rule of Law Initiative unless adopted pursuant to the bylaws of the Association. Nothing contained herein is to be considered as the rendering of legal advice for specific cases, and readers are responsible for obtaining such advice from their own legal counsel. These materials and any forms and agreements herein are intended for educational and informational purposes only.”​